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Bassist Tatsu Aoki has recorded more than half a dozen albums of solo improvisation, leads or coleads three groups, and as a sideman anchors bands for artists ranging from Fred Anderson to Von Freeman to Elijah Levi to Francis Wong–so you’d think the last thing he’d need was another creative outlet. But his Miyumi Project covers some new ground. It’s Aoki’s first attempt to focus on his ethnic heritage–an obvious concern in his administration of Chicago’s annual Asian American Jazz Festival, but so far a minor component of his music making. Aoki describes the Miyumi Project as a blend of Asian, African, European, and Latin modes of expression, but sounds of the East predominate: the sextet’s percussion complement includes Japanese taiko drums and a Korean buk, and new-music oboist Robbie Hunsinger plays the Indian and Chinese versions of her instrument, the shenai and sona. The lead voices belong to Aoki and tenor and baritone saxist Mwata Bowden, who’s also in the bassist’s Power Trio; on the new group’s eponymously titled album, Bowden adds the didgeridoo, reaching to the far side of the Pacific Rim. Like many of Aoki’s projects, this one doesn’t lean on carefully worked-out tunes but on compositional frameworks: he and the drummers establish a strong, repetitive rhythm, a hallmark of folk-music traditions the world over, and then Bowden unleashes his imagination, usually invoking a single motif or scale for the bulk of his solo. This creates a sonic and creative environment similar to that of several AACM bands, but it’s a risky approach: sometimes things drag on a bit longer than even trance inducement would dictate, and other times an intricate, rarefied, and immensely serene clockwork emerges from the shadows. Special guest Avreeayl Ra joins the group on drums for this concert, a release celebration for the Miyumi Project’s CD–the first joint effort between two labels Aoki has often recorded for and helped bring together, Chicago’s Southport and the Berkeley-based Asian Improv Records. Friday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.